My Brief, Inglorious Career as a Cool Jazz DJ

 

After I had officially retired from my professorship in Kentucky, I stayed on to teach half time. With time on my hands, I applied for a part-time job as a bouncer in a large dive bar just across the state line in Tennessee. (Kentucky was dry.) I tried to look tough during the interview, but after thirty years of teaching, I probably looked as if I would try to scold a troublemaker into submission instead of tossing him out on his ear. The bar owner said I didn’t look intimidating enough for the job.

But then a position as a jazz DJ opened up at the local NPR radio station. Happily, the manager of the station had been a student of mine in a graduate seminar some years back, so after a perfunctory tryout and a brief interview, she hired me.

Unfortunately, I jump into these sorts of things without much thought. “Gee, that sounds like fun” is about as deliberate in thought as I get. I’ve gotten into trouble with that approach before. Once I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to pretend to be someone else by acting in a play?” So I tried out for a play and got the lead. I played a detective. Badly. I’d like to forget that whole side trip into acting. I’m game for almost anything, even when I have no particular talent for the thing. I was hoping I had a talent for DJing.

After I practiced for a week or two in an unused studio, I was thrown into the mix as WKMS’s new “Cool Jazz” disc jockey, spinning platters (actually compact discs) from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. I still remember my first word into the mic: a throat-constricting “Ack.” When I got home that night, my wife greeted me with “Ack?” The woman can be cruel. 

When I began, I didn’t even know that Cool Jazz was a thing. Actually, Cool Jazz is a special sub-genre of jazz. It has a more relaxed tempo and melody than Bebop; a smaller number of musicians (and is devoid of the shuffle rhythm) than Swing; and it has more structure and melody than Free Jazz. Cool Jazz is the elevator music of the jazz world. 

Of course, the various styles of jazz often run together. I played a lot of Ella Fitzgerald, though much of what she sings is Swing. I would even play a few songs by the quintessential bebopper, Charlie Parker.

The perfect example of Cool Jazz is the Dave Brubeck quartet. I was especially taken by Take Five and played it a few times a week. Listen to Take Five in your head. Is that a great song or what?

I was on so late at night that I felt a certain freedom in my choice of music. One morning about 2 a.m. I played, on a whim, some didgeridoo music. (That’s the long wooden wind instrument, buzzy and ultra low in pitch, that you see hippies sometimes play at craft fairs.) The station manager happened to be tuned in to my show. “What in the hell was that thing you played last night, Kent?” she asked the next day. “You’re supposed to be playing Cool Jazz.” Chastened by my onetime student! What a bummer!

So there I was, the voice and would-be authority of Cool Jazz for Western Kentucky. I was in show biz! And it was a paying gig. (That’s the way we show biz types talk.)

From the beginning, I had difficulty projecting the cool persona that I thought befitted a jazz DJ. My decidedly uncool intonation patterns as a professor, slow and analytical, had been baked into my voice over the past thirty years. So I had to work hard to become less professor, more of a hip DJ. To accomplish that, I would get close to the mic and lower my voice a half octave. Then speed up my tempo and slur my words just a bit. I wasn’t entirely successful.

I’m just not a cool guy. It’s hard to be cool when you have red hair and freckles. Think Archie, Alfred E. Neuman, Harry Potter’s buddy Ron Weasley, Carrot Top, and so on. Did you know that seven presidents, including George Washington, had red hair? None of them would have made good jazz DJs.

During the day, I was still working half-time as a professor, but at night I was the maestro of the airwaves, a jazz-playing DJ with an audience of bebopping hipsters and jazz aficionados. (At least that’s what I imagined.) I was sitting in the catbird seat. 

It was a lot of fun, and I tried very hard to be a good DJ. On a typical shift, I would go in early to assembly my playlist and pull the discs I was going to play that night. Then I would go on the air, introduce each song from my playlist, provide transitions between songs, read public service announcements, and so on.

I was reminded how much of an amateur I was when we had our NPR fund drives. A couple of the daytime radio guys and I would sit around and try to persuade WKMS listeners to send in money. Both of them were more comfortable in front of a mic than I was and bantered easily with one another, leaving me to read the scripted banalities of our fund raising efforts.

My half-time professorship ran out in five years, and it was time for me and the family to move back to our home state of Oregon.

So that was end of my career in show business. It was the closest to cool as I’ve ever been.

Postscript: Let’s face it, Ricochet is a town called Squaresville, wherein live probably the greatest concentration of squares and cornballs on the internet.

Democrats are hip; Republicans are square. Conservatives are even squarer. Everyone knows that. AOC exudes hipness; Ted Cruz exudes black ties and wingtip shoes, 

It’s possible, I suppose, that a few of you might have been cool at some point in your life. Tell us about it.

 

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There are 38 comments.

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  1. Stad Thatcher

    You should change your handle to “DJ Jazzy Cool Kent” . . .

    • #1
    • July 8, 2019, at 6:44 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor

    KentForrester: Postscript: Let’s face it, Ricochet is a town called Squaresville, wherein live probably the greatest concentration of squares and cornballs on the internet.

    Hey, speak for yourself! I do the happy dance! Then again . . .

    It sounds like it was great fun, Kent! Thanks!

    • #2
    • July 8, 2019, at 6:55 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    KentForrester: Postscript: Let’s face it, Ricochet is a town called Squaresville, wherein live probably the greatest concentration of squares and cornballs on the internet.

    Hey, speak for yourself! I do the happy dance! Then again . . .

    It sounds like it was great fun, Kent! Thanks!

    Susan, it was great fun. It was a lot more fun than being a professor. I think, however, that I was a better professor than a DJ. 

    • #3
    • July 8, 2019, at 6:57 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. She Thatcher
    She

    KentForrester: The perfect example of Cool Jazz is the Dave Brubeck quartet. I was especially taken by Take Five and played it a few times a week. Listen to Take Five in your head. Is that a great song or what?

    It totally is. I like cool jazz. I don’t like the stuff that my mother used to say “sounds like a traffic jam.”

    Great post, and entertaining as always. 

    • #4
    • July 8, 2019, at 7:57 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Addiction Is A Choice Member

    • #5
    • July 8, 2019, at 8:01 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Stad Thatcher

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    KentForrester: Postscript: Let’s face it, Ricochet is a town called Squaresville, wherein live probably the greatest concentration of squares and cornballs on the internet.

    Hey, speak for yourself! I do the happy dance! Then again . . .

    It sounds like it was great fun, Kent! Thanks!

    Post hijack!

    What odd jobs have folks done over the years? One summer I helped fill in a grave . . .

    • #6
    • July 8, 2019, at 8:02 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    Stad (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    KentForrester: Postscript: Let’s face it, Ricochet is a town called Squaresville, wherein live probably the greatest concentration of squares and cornballs on the internet.

    Hey, speak for yourself! I do the happy dance! Then again . . .

    It sounds like it was great fun, Kent! Thanks!

    Post hijack!

    What odd jobs have folks done over the years? One summer I helped fill in a grave . . .

    Stad, interesting question. I once dragged cases of dynamite into a tunnel in a hill that someone wanted blown up. I lasted two days and came home with a splitting headache both days. Dynamite gives you a headache. 

    • #7
    • July 8, 2019, at 8:05 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. The Reticulator Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    KentForrester: Postscript: Let’s face it, Ricochet is a town called Squaresville, wherein live probably the greatest concentration of squares and cornballs on the internet.

    Hey, speak for yourself! I do the happy dance! Then again . . .

    It sounds like it was great fun, Kent! Thanks!

    Post hijack!

    What odd jobs have folks done over the years? One summer I helped fill in a grave . . .

    Stad, interesting question. I once dragged cases of dynamite into a tunnel in a hill that someone wanted blown up. I lasted two days and came home with a splitting headache both days. Dynamite gives you a headache.

    I was a migrant worker in the North Dakota sugar beet fields. I lasted only a couple of days.

    • #8
    • July 8, 2019, at 8:07 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. Richard Easton Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    KentForrester: Postscript: Let’s face it, Ricochet is a town called Squaresville, wherein live probably the greatest concentration of squares and cornballs on the internet.

    Hey, speak for yourself! I do the happy dance! Then again . . .

    It sounds like it was great fun, Kent! Thanks!

    Post hijack!

    What odd jobs have folks done over the years? One summer I helped fill in a grave . . .

    Who was your victim? j/k

    • #9
    • July 8, 2019, at 8:13 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  10. Stad Thatcher

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Dynamite gives you a headache. 

    Especially when it’s lit . . .

    • #10
    • July 8, 2019, at 8:14 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. Hoyacon Member

    I assume that you watched Clint in Play Misty for Me to get some tips on being a cool DJ.

    I’ve actually never heard of the term (or genre) “cool jazz,” so I likely would have taken that as license to play any kind of jazz that I wanted, which would have made for a short career. It sounds like what I’d call West Coast (i.e., mostly white) jazz a la Chet Baker.

    As far as being cool, I’m too cool to consider myself cool.

    • #11
    • July 8, 2019, at 8:34 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  12. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    I assume that you watched Clint in Play Misty for Me to get some tips on being a cool DJ.

    I’ve actually never heard of the term (or genre) “cool jazz,” so I likely would have taken that as license to play any kind of jazz that I wanted, which would have made for a short career. It sounds like what I’d call West Coast (i.e., mostly white) jazz a la Chet Baker.

    As far as being cool, I’m too cool to consider myself cool.

    Hoyacon, Cool Jazz is sometimes called Smooth Jazz. As I said, it’s the elevator music of the jazz world. I prefer it to bebop, swing, and free jazz. 

    • #12
    • July 8, 2019, at 8:52 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. OkieSailor Member

    KentForrester:

    Let’s face it, Ricochet is a town called Squaresville, wherein live probably the greatest concentration of squares and cornballs on the internet.

    Democrats are hip; Republicans are square. Conservatives are even squarer. Everyone knows that. AOC exudes hipness; Ted Cruz exudes black ties and wingtip shoes, 

    In construction square means being exactly perpendicular to the gravitational horizon. It’s importance cannot be overstated for stability. Any building that is out of square is ultimately fated to destruction….or it’s just in California! So, I don’t mind at all being called a Square, it just means I have a good, stable foundation.

    • #13
    • July 8, 2019, at 8:55 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    OkieSailor (View Comment):

    KentForrester:

    Let’s face it, Ricochet is a town called Squaresville, wherein live probably the greatest concentration of squares and cornballs on the internet.

    Democrats are hip; Republicans are square. Conservatives are even squarer. Everyone knows that. AOC exudes hipness; Ted Cruz exudes black ties and wingtip shoes,

    In construction square means being exactly perpendicular to the gravitational horizon. It’s importance cannot be overstated for stability. Any building that is out of square is ultimately fated to destruction….or it’s just in California! So, I don’t mind at all being called a Square, it just means I have a good, stable foundation.

    Okie, I like the way you think. Also, remember Huey Lewis and the News, who sang “It’s hip to be square.” 

    • #14
    • July 8, 2019, at 9:01 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  15. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Thatcher

    I came for the obligatory “Bob Pic’s”.

    Not even a single allusion to sliding a gratuitous Bob image in the post….

    So uncool.

    • #15
    • July 8, 2019, at 9:34 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  16. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    I came for the obligatory “Bob Pic’s”.

    Not even a single allusion to sliding a gratuitous Bob image in the post….

    So uncool.

    GLDIII, I couldn’t figure how to do it without coming across as self-indulgent. I’m shameless enough as it is about inserting Bob pics. One of these times the Ricochet crowd is going to turn against me. 

    • #16
    • July 8, 2019, at 9:49 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. Kephalithos Member

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester: The perfect example of Cool Jazz is the Dave Brubeck quartet. I was especially taken by Take Five and played it a few times a week. Listen to Take Five in your head. Is that a great song or what?

    It totally is. I like cool jazz. I don’t like the stuff that my mother used to say “sounds like a traffic jam.”

    Traffic jams are interesting.

    • #17
    • July 8, 2019, at 10:01 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    Burwick Chiffswiddle (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester: The perfect example of Cool Jazz is the Dave Brubeck quartet. I was especially taken by Take Five and played it a few times a week. Listen to Take Five in your head. Is that a great song or what?

    It totally is. I like cool jazz. I don’t like the stuff that my mother used to say “sounds like a traffic jam.”

    Traffic jams are interesting.

    Mr. Chiffswiddle, where are you coming from?

    • #18
    • July 8, 2019, at 10:10 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. Kephalithos Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    I assume that you watched Clint in Play Misty for Me to get some tips on being a cool DJ.

    I’ve actually never heard of the term (or genre) “cool jazz,” so I likely would have taken that as license to play any kind of jazz that I wanted, which would have made for a short career. It sounds like what I’d call West Coast (i.e., mostly white) jazz a la Chet Baker.

    As far as being cool, I’m too cool to consider myself cool.

    Hoyacon, Cool Jazz is sometimes called Smooth Jazz. As I said, it’s the elevator music of the jazz world.

    Eh. Not really. Hoyacon is right.

    “Take Five” is cool jazz. It’s not smooth jazz.

    • #19
    • July 8, 2019, at 10:10 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Kephalithos Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Burwick Chiffswiddle (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester: The perfect example of Cool Jazz is the Dave Brubeck quartet. I was especially taken by Take Five and played it a few times a week. Listen to Take Five in your head. Is that a great song or what?

    It totally is. I like cool jazz. I don’t like the stuff that my mother used to say “sounds like a traffic jam.”

    Traffic jams are interesting.

    Mr. Chiffswiddle, where are you coming from?

    A strange and distant land where people enjoy the musical equivalent of traffic accidents.

    . . .

    The great Charles Mingus, for instance, caused more musical traffic accidents than a drunk taxi driver. And how sublime those wrecks are!

    • #20
    • July 8, 2019, at 10:19 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  21. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member

    KentForrester: But then a position as a jazz DJ opened up at the local NPR radio station.

    KentForrester:

    From the beginning, I had difficulty projecting the cool persona that I thought befitted a jazz DJ. My decidedly uncool intonation patterns as a professor, slow and analytical, had been baked into my voice over the past thirty years. So I had to work hard to become less professor, more of a hip DJ. To accomplish that, I would get close to the mic and lower my voice a half octave. Then speed up my tempo and slur my words just a bit. I wasn’t entirely successful.

    I’m just not a cool guy. It’s hard to be cool when you have red hair and freckles.

    You were on public radio. I would think your professorial speech patterns would fit right in as an NPR jazz DJ.

    • #21
    • July 8, 2019, at 10:52 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  22. She Thatcher
    She

    Stad (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    KentForrester: Postscript: Let’s face it, Ricochet is a town called Squaresville, wherein live probably the greatest concentration of squares and cornballs on the internet.

    Hey, speak for yourself! I do the happy dance! Then again . . .

    It sounds like it was great fun, Kent! Thanks!

    Post hijack!

    What odd jobs have folks done over the years? One summer I helped fill in a grave . . .

    Fishwife. Not the shrieking, foul-mouthed kind. The ichthyoid kind:

    • #22
    • July 8, 2019, at 11:39 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  23. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Wow, man….that’s like…so out there…cool enough to freeze my eyes, man…. 

    Jazz radio online is way better than NPR. 

     

     

    • #23
    • July 8, 2019, at 12:01 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  24. Stad Thatcher

    She (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    KentForrester: Postscript: Let’s face it, Ricochet is a town called Squaresville, wherein live probably the greatest concentration of squares and cornballs on the internet.

    Hey, speak for yourself! I do the happy dance! Then again . . .

    It sounds like it was great fun, Kent! Thanks!

    Post hijack!

    What odd jobs have folks done over the years? One summer I helped fill in a grave . . .

    Fishwife. Not the shrieking, foul-mouthed kind. The ichthyoid kind:

    Uh . . . sexy, in a blood and guts sort of way . . .

    • #24
    • July 8, 2019, at 1:29 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. Hoyacon Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    I assume that you watched Clint in Play Misty for Me to get some tips on being a cool DJ.

    I’ve actually never heard of the term (or genre) “cool jazz,” so I likely would have taken that as license to play any kind of jazz that I wanted, which would have made for a short career. It sounds like what I’d call West Coast (i.e., mostly white) jazz a la Chet Baker.

    As far as being cool, I’m too cool to consider myself cool.

    Hoyacon, Cool Jazz is sometimes called Smooth Jazz. As I said, it’s the elevator music of the jazz world. I prefer it to bebop, swing, and free jazz.

    OK, got it. Smooth jazz I have heard of and your description seems appropriate. Yellowjackets, Kenny G, etc.

     

    • #25
    • July 8, 2019, at 2:34 PM PDT
    • Like
  26. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher

    You never cease to entertain, delight and amaze us!

    • #26
    • July 8, 2019, at 2:37 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  27. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):

    You never cease to entertain, delight and amaze us!

    Mrs. Goldwaterwoman, it’s sweet of you to say that.

    • #27
    • July 8, 2019, at 2:54 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  28. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester: The perfect example of Cool Jazz is the Dave Brubeck quartet. I was especially taken by Take Five and played it a few times a week. Listen to Take Five in your head. Is that a great song or what?

    It totally is. I like cool jazz. I don’t like the stuff that my mother used to say “sounds like a traffic jam.”

    Great post, and entertaining as always.

    @She, have you ever read the Flavia de Luce novels by Alan Bradley? They’re about an amazingly precocious 10-year-0ld British girl living in a decaying mansion. She solves crimes.

    They’re really good. You can buy most of them in Kindle versions for a couple of bucks. I hope you’ll try one. I know you’ll like it. 

     

    • #28
    • July 8, 2019, at 3:02 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    @She, have you ever read the Flavia de Luce novels by Alan Bradley? They’re about an amazingly precocious 10-year-0ld British girl living in a decaying mansion. She solves crimes.

    They’re really good. You can buy most of them in Kindle versions for a couple of bucks. I hope you’ll try one. I know you’ll like it. 

    Can these books be read by 11-12 year old children? I’m always looking for books for my grandchildren.

    • #29
    • July 8, 2019, at 3:23 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  30. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    @She, have you ever read the Flavia de Luce novels by Alan Bradley? They’re about an amazingly precocious 10-year-0ld British girl living in a decaying mansion. She solves crimes.

    They’re really good. You can buy most of them in Kindle versions for a couple of bucks. I hope you’ll try one. I know you’ll like it.

    Can these books be read by 11-12 year old children? I’m always looking for books for my grandchildren.

    I think they can. Lots of funny interplay among the three sisters. The two older ones plague Flavia, the ten year old, who is a budding chemist with a lab of her own in an abandoned section of the mansion. I think you would enjoy them too 

    • #30
    • July 8, 2019, at 3:29 PM PDT
    • Like
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